Eekeeluak Avalak made history on August 11, giving Nunavut its first-ever Canada Games gold medal, with a dominating victory, by points awarded, in the 52 kg weight class.
It was an emotional and popular win that had the Walker Athletic Development Center arena crowd pumping. The winner, Avalak, 18 and from Cambridge Bay, raced around the mat in victory and jumped into the arms of his trainer, Chris Crooks. Even the coaches of the opposing team left with a smile on their face.
“I didn’t see myself winning a medal, I just came to compete and have fun and here I am the first Inuk from Nunavut to win a gold medal at the Canada Summer Games. I am so happy! »
Alberta’s Fred Calingay won silver and Ontario’s Zubin Gatta won bronze.
Avalak dedicated his win to the memory of his brother, Joanasie, who took his own life in 2015 and would have turned 27 this week. His first remarks to people in the media around him were directed at his brother.
“Happy belated birthday to a special person in paradise!” This is for you, and I know you’re watching over me and I love you brother. It’s great, he said. History is made. I couldn’t have done it without everyone around me. My teammates. My trainer (Crooks), who is like a father to me. It’s nice just to be part of it. I’m just happy. »
Avalak entered the competition as a legitimate medal hopeful. He is a bronze medalist at the Canadian U19 Freestyle Tournament Wrestling Championships in the 55 kg weight category. He opted for the 52 kg weight class for this competition rather than advancing to the 56 kg class.
Nunavut sent its first team to the 2001 Canada Summer Games, held in London, Ontario. And, the only medal awarded to Nunavut dates back to 2007 at the Canada Winter Games in the city of Whitehorse.
“It’s a great moment,” said Nunavut Chef de Mission Jef Seeteenak, seconds before Avalak accepted his medal. This is our very first medal at the Summer Games and I hope our children will understand that we can participate in these competitions in our own right. Eekeeluak is a good boy and he has openly admitted that it was wrestling and the power of sport that saved him. »
Avalak was also the standard bearer during the opening ceremonies of the Games. But, emotionally, it was a difficult week for him. “Five days ago was my brother’s birthday. And, I was trying to focus on the Games but I couldn’t stop thinking about him. But this morning, before my semi-final match, I finally let out a few tears because, oh how I wish I could hug my brother, but all I have now are memories. But all that didn’t stop me from making history and being part of the Games. Not only to be part of it, but to be part of it as a champion! »
Avalak plans to move to Edmonton next month, where he has already spent time training, to improve his college prep courses. He wants to pursue a Native Studies program at the University of Alberta and he wants to continue to advance his wrestling career.
“I plan to go to the University of Alberta,” he says. I know a lot of great people there, several nice teammates. As you already know they have a great trainer and my trainer the Edmonton Wrestling Club and the University of Alberta Wrestling Club they are all the reason I am here today . »
Source and photo: Niagara 2022 Canada Summer Games